Background: Little is known about the influence of culture and beliefs about breast cancer, and its implications on preventive health behaviour among South Asian people in the UK.
Methods: Using a qualitative approach, 24 South Asian breast cancer patients and their significant others were interviewed.
Results: Most patients were unfamiliar with the subject of cancer; they expressed lack of knowledge of cancer as a disease and its symptoms. They identified a painless lump in the breast as sign of abnormality, but not cancer. They also did not know any non-lump breast symptoms. Over half participated in breast screening after encouragement from daughters or relatives. Most did not practise breast self-examination. Perceptions of cancer and health behaviour were influenced by cultural beliefs. Common themes were cancer is a taboo subject and cancer is a stigma. Patients also expressed misunderstandings about the cause of cancer. Cancer in the family had ramifications on children’s marriage prospects and may cause marital breakdown. Terminology used also caused communication problems with healthcare professionals and within the family: the use of ‘chest’ to substitute ‘breast’ changed the meaning of the message conveyed.
Conclusions: Cultural beliefs and practices accentuate difficulties in understanding breast cancer, breast screening and breast self-examination, and can prevent South Asian women from adopting preventive health practices.